Will Lygon Street’s spruikers have the last shout?

I imagine economics teachers have abandoned school trips to Victoria Market and are now heading with their charges to the more exciting restaurant strip of Lygon Street. Why show them something as delicate and ephemeral as “perfect” competition when just up the road they can see how markets really work in the messy and dirty real world?

The Age reported last week that a number of restaurateurs in Lygon Street have come to the belated recognition that spruiking was bad for business. In essence they have been fighting over how big their slice of the pizza is while all the time the pizza is getting smaller and smaller because of public distaste for spruiking.

As one reviewer puts it: “If there is one thing I hate, loathe, detest with every fibre of my being, it’s restaurant spruikers. I just can’t stand them…. But if a restaurant spruiker comes and tries to get me to go inside, well…. I’m sorry. For me, that’s an automatic Permanent Rejection.”.

Last Tuesday afternoon, according to The Age, “the owners of eight Italian restaurants on the eastern side of Lygon Street between Grattan and Pelham met to discuss what to do about a practice that is both tradition and millstone. The informal gathering decided unanimously to put an end to spruiking”.

This sort of agreement is usually seen as inherently unstable because there’s an incentive to cheat (I’m refraining from labelling it a cartel because there’s presumably no damage to the public interest from abandoning spruiking, so such a pejorative term seems out of order). An individual owner would do better by breaking the agreement than by abiding by it because the short term returns from cheating are greater than the long term losses from the collapse of the cartel. Read the rest of this entry »

Will cars destroy Preston Market?

The biggest threat to Preston Market is cars.

I got thinking about this after I had lunch there last Friday. As always, I was taken in by the mad rush and vitality of the place and the sense that much of it is still essentially the same as it was when it started. I was surprised to learn that it’s a relatively young institution, having only been established in 1970 (although Preston proper is considerably older – it was connected to Flinders Street by rail in the 1920s and experienced a major population boom in the 1950s).

Initially, I was wondering if the Market is vulnerable to the increasing gentrification in the area, but then I realised Victoria Market has withstood demographic changes in the inner city reasonably well. Sure, it’s pretty middle class now but the deli and meat sections at Vic Market are unsurpassed in Melbourne. So while gentrification of Preston Market will undoubtedly diminish its authenticity – and that is the vital ingredient for some customers – it will not necessarily undermine its viability.

Which brings me to the threat to the Market posed by cars – not too many cars, but too few!

I saw a flyer issued by the Market parking manager to stall holders advising of a new parking scheme. I don’t know when it commences, but rather than fine parkers who stay beyond the initial free two hour period (one hour near Aldi), the new arrangement will charge them $1 for each additional hour. How that will work financially for the parking operator is a puzzle (how will they administer it cost-effectively?), but it’s their money. Read the rest of this entry »